Battleground Banaras: BJP eyes Pancha Dravida, other linguistic minorities to boost PM Modi’s prospects

Multiple teams of BJP leaders and workers, including politicians from the southern and western states, have been meeting key voters of these linguistic minorities
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath during a road show for the Lok Sabha elections in Varanasi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath during a road show for the Lok Sabha elections in VaranasiPhoto | PTI

VARANASI: It’s been generations since linguistically diverse sections from across the country including Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh-Telangana and Karnataka settled in Kashi – one of the most sacred and treasured Hindu pilgrimages.

It’s the same Marathi, Gujarati, Telugu, Tamil, Malayali and Kannada speaking Banarasi voters who are now being wooed proactively by the BJP with an eye on significantly increasing the winning margin of PM Narendra Modi from Varanasi in the June 1 Lok Sabha election.

Multiple teams of BJP leaders and workers, including politicians from the southern and western states, have been meeting key voters of these linguistic minorities in the riverside localities of Varanasi to increase their poll percentage and urging them to vote in large numbers for Modi.

The ghats dotting the river Ganga in the temple city have long housed localities of these linguistic minorities, who came and settled in Kashi, generations back, particularly as Teerth Purohits.

“They consider themselves more as Banarasi rather than western Indian or southern Indian states diaspora in Kashi. Most of them are from various Brahmin sub castes and are intellectually very rich. Since the days of Jana Sangha, they’ve been hardcore BJP/Jana Sangha backers. But their polling has been sluggish since decades, at the best hovering between 45-50%. It was due to our sustained efforts that their poll percentage crossed 55% in the 2017 and 2022 assembly polls. But we’re now working at increasing the poll percentage to beyond 70%, despite knowing well that abnormal heat will have its toll on overall voter turnout,” said Gajanan Joshi, a Varanasi-based BJP leader who has been heading the drive to connect with these key voters in the temple city.

The drive has been underway everywhere, spanning from Marathi-speaking populations’ localities of Brahma Ghat, Durga Ghat, Bhonsla Ghat, Panchganga Ghat, Dugda Vinayak to the south Indian Diaspora localities of Hanuman Ghat, Kedar Ghat, Shivala Ghat, Jangambadi and Pandey Haveli.

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“The Pancha Dravida, primarily comprising Marathi, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu and a part of Gujarati speaking voters are being particularly contacted and events dedicated to them by top BJP politicians from their home states are also being organised. On Wednesday, the Maharashtra deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis attended Maharashtra Samagam at the ancient Jangambadi Math. Prior to it, the external affairs minister S Jaishankar had a memorable interaction at the Tamil Samagam at the Kanchi Kamakoti Matam in Hanuman Ghat,” Joshi said.

Other South Indian BJP leaders, including Hyderabad seat candidate Kompella Madhavi Latha, Karimnagar MP Bandi Sanjay Kumar, BJP Mahila Morcha national head Vanathi Srinivasan, besides MLAs from Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka and other states have been touring these localities and connecting with the key voters since 7-8 days.

According to Joshi, an estimated 1.5 lakh voters in Varanasi represent the Pancha Dravida. If the Bengali, Sindhi and Punjabi voters too are added, then the number goes beyond 2 lakh.

“Increasing their poll percentage holds the key to further raising the winning margin of PM Modi in Varanasi which was 4.79 lakh votes in 2019. We’re hoping that these most hardcore BJP supporters will help our PM's cause this time by coming out in large numbers to vote,” he said.

In a related development, actor-turned-BJP candidate from Meerut seat Arun Govil held an interactive session with the Sindhi community in Varanasi on Wednesday. The Sindhis, Punjabis and Khatris (also known to be old BJP backers) are around 30,000 in number in Varanasi.

The ruling party is particularly eyeing this large chunk of the 2 lakh to 2.5 lakh votes out of the total 20 lakh votes, as it wants to compensate any damage to Modi’s total vote, due to possible consolidation of Bhumihar-Muslim-Yadav voters, along with small parts of scheduled caste and non-Yadav OBC voters.

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